Pursuant to the question below about 伴:

What intrigues me is what 8 八 and a cow 牛(or 2 cows) have to do with this?

chineseetymology.org says for 半: 'Augmented pictograph 半. Augmentation 八 (indicating separation) and cow 牛.' (WTF is an 'augmented cow??)

zhongwen.com says 半: divide 八 an ox 牛 (share it? cut it up??)

An old version of 伴 enter image description here is this 2 'augmented cows'??

We see what looks like 2 people to me, but the dictionary says it is 2 times 半, = 八 (8 or divide) and 牛 (ox, cow) twice. Later we see 伴 as 人 + 半 Maybe on a notion of 'a man's best companion is his cow?' (In ancient times I think, a cow was regarded more valuable than a wife, at least in many societies.)

1 Answer 1


Perhaps those etymologies are not quite correct.

The, current, definition in the new Outliers dictionary gives the following explanation:


Ancient form:


半 was originally composed of 八 “to divide; cut into two parts” and 斗 “measuring spoon,” indicating the original meaning “a spoon used to serve alcohol with a capacity of half a 斗 (dǒu).”

They give the following reference:


p. 191-195

Then under Meanings they continue:

1 (orig.) a spoon used to serve alcohol with a capacity of half a 斗 (dǒu)

2 → half

I guess a 半 is almost like a half-pint - if we’re to put it in modern terms westerners could understand.


edit: I would imagine 伴 is comprised of 亻/人 [a meaning component] and 半 [a sound component].

  • A dou would be a pint? About 454ml? I hope they were not drinking 白酒 by the pint!
    – Pedroski
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 0:01
  • Apparently, 一斗为十升:zhidao.baidu.com/question/553053209.html 一半斗为5升!! 干杯哦!!
    – Pedroski
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 0:42
  • Not an apt illustration, I know, but I couldn’t think of anything else that is usually ordered in halves. Let alone a half of ten liters.
    – Mou某
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 3:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.